Growing up in a small Colorado town, Michaela Merrill found herself living the stereotypical small-town lifestyle, stuck in cyclical habits—drinking too much, partying too much. She wanted more. So, she left home and moved to Winter Park, CO.
“I never had anyone to show me how to do things in the outdoors, so I made myself do these things alone to learn. I started with snowboarding and got my ass handed to me. You get beat to pieces for years, but then you get it and you think, ‘If I can get down this super steep slope, I must be doing ok.’ When you stick with something, it’s so rewarding. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s worth it.”
This lesson of persistence is something she takes with her throughout everyday life. It’s helped her progress in her job as a bank manager, moving from a small Winter Park branch to the largest branch in Denver. This attitude also came in handy when she started fly fishing.
“My first fly fishing trip was to the Fraser River. Everyone in my group was experienced and I was there just tying regular knots, nothing fancy because I didn’t know how. It was insanely humbling, but you have to start somewhere. I became the annoying squeaky wheel. I asked questions. I went with people who knew what they were doing every time I could.”
She had her good days, and she had her bad days. She always focused on the small achievements and her progression and kept a list of what she still needed to practice. Feeling ridiculous at times (ahem, completely tangled up in the middle of a river) didn’t stop her from continuing to try and learn.
“When I get frustrated, I will say to myself, ‘Michaela, look what you know now. Look at how good your knots are now.” It’s important to recognize the little things. It’s okay to come away with things that you want to get better at. If you are first starting, just be proud of driving yourself to the river. Just getting there is progress from sitting around not doing it.”
Fly fishing quickly became her lifestyle—the center of her universe. Evenings and weekends are filled with fly fishing. Whenever she travels, she makes sure there is a river to fish; when she visits friends, she makes sure there is a river to fish. Headed to a wedding? You got it...river to fish.
“Fly fishing is you versus you. Every time you go to a new river, you learn something new. You get better every time you go, but it will always be a challenge. It’s forever evolving, so you can push yourself constantly. When you put yourself out there and don’t give up, it all comes together.”
And the community of people she has met on her journey has been one of the most important pieces of the whole process.
“The people are my favorite part. You have a shared passion with all these people you didn’t even know existed before. It’s special.”
Her biggest piece of advice for any new fly anglers:
“Be kind to yourself through the process and don’t compare yourself to other people. It’s okay to look ridiculous. You have to get outside of your own head. There will be days when you totally impress yourself and days that are bad—everyone has those. Don’t set expectations because it can be a slow progression."
Like Michaela, if you take the time to acknowledge each and every one of your accomplishments and stick with whatever it is you are trying, you too have the potential to go big.
Interested in taking your first wade into the water but don’t know where to start? There are so many women’s fly fishing clinics across the country you can attend to get your feet wet. And the gear? You know what to do. Visit Mountainist and rent some to get started.